can the Sidewalk Plan be repaired? (with updates)

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Today’s Schenectady Gazette reports that “City share of costs for troubled sidewalk program escalates: Officials pledge to save troubled initiative” (by Pete DeMola, Jan. 29, 2020). The article begins:

The city has seen its share of replacing sidewalks on Ardsley Road jump from $63,000 to $159,192, again calling into question the shifting costs of the city’s new sidewalk replacement program.

The original bid to replace sidewalks on Ardsley Road came in at $179,435. But final costs were $238,194, which resulted in homeowners getting hit with bills twice as high as they were expecting.

The rapid and unexplained rise in City Share (about $98,000) is particularly puzzling, because we have been told by Mayor Gary McCarthy and City Engineer Chris Wallin that the huge bills sent out to Ardsley Road residents a month ago were caused by unexpected costs for Top Soil, Seeds, and Tree Removal. But, the increase in Soil & Seed costs (which were almost 12 times as much as in the approved and supposedly reviewed Contractor’s Bid) were “only” an extra $42,538. Moreover, the Tree Removal costs, which were always going to be paid for by the City, were merely $9000 more than in the Contractor’s Bid. That leaves over $40,000 in City Share costs unexplained by anyone and by any figures shown in the original Contractor’s Bid or the new Project Cost sheet.

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We are left with some big questions:

  1. IMG_2723How could the Contractor’s Bid, which did not include the surprise additional $42,538 Soil and Seeds expense, have been 84% more than the Polimeni-Wallin estimates? There apparently were tens of thousands of dollars of costs not anticipated by the Polimeni-Wallin estimate calculations and not yet explained or disclosed to the Residents, or even to Council members.
  2. How did the City Share balloon from the $37,000 subsidy unveiled at the January 7, 2020 Committees Meeting, to what amounts to a subsidy over $96,000? How much of a subsidy is the City (taxpayer) willing to supply for future Project sidewalk districts to keep costs for Sidewalk Plan residents at a reasonable level, and a level likely to attract residents to the Plan?

DAGArdsleyCover Click on the thumbnail to the right for David Giacalone’s Comments submitted to City Council for the Public Hearing on Monday, January 27, 2020, regarding the Ardsley Road Sidewalk plan and the City’s proposal to reduce the cost to the Homeowner-Residents to $55.44 per linear foot of sidewalk (an amount that would still be 25% higher than the estimates for the program given in January 2020 by Councilman John Polimeni and City Engineer Chris Walling). The Comments contain a breakdown of relevant costs, showing the original Contractor’s Bid, the revamped Cost Sheet giving “actual” Project Costs, and the escalation in the City’s subsidy to the Ardsley Rd. residents in order to reach the $55.44 figure. The Comments include discussion of many of the questions and issues raised by the puzzling numbers in the first and second Cost Sheets and the City’s “explanations”.

At the Council Meeting on Monday, Council members Leesa Perazzo and Marion Porterfield, who along with Vince Riggi, voted against the enabling Resolution for the Sidewalk Plan, both emphasized that improvement is crucial, and revamping the entire Plan should be considered. Perazzo called the increase in the City Share “breathtaking.” Polimeni’s co-conspirators in adopting the Plan and approving both the Ardsley Rd. Bid and New Cost Sheet, Ms. Zalewski-Wildzunas and Ed Kosiur, had nothing to say about the Ardsley Rd. frustrations or the ballooned subsidy by the City.

Despite all the problems and unanswered questions, John Polimeni told the Gazette:

“We’re making attempts to correct and make it better in the future,” he said after the meeting. “As the architect of the program, I’m going to do what I can to make sure it succeeds.”

However, with so many uncertainties as to costs and procedures, and so few blocks likely to volunteer for this Sidewalk Assessment District plan, here is, to my mind the:

MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION: Are those large and unexplained costs expected to be encountered by every block petitioning to be in the Sidewalk Assessment District? If so, does it make sense to continue the Program, which was never destined to be used by more than a tiny percentage of City blocks, rather than pausing or junking it?  Wouldn’t it be more responsible to do the homework necessary to construct a system in Schenectady that is fair to property-owners and taxpayers, and will actually achieve what we all want, a sidewalk network that is in good repair across the City? [click this link to see a description of how Rochester and Syracuse approach sidewalk repair.]

GazLTE-Bacheldor29Jan2020 See the Letter to the Editor in the January 29, 2020 Gazette by DeCamp Avenue petitioners Laurie and David Bacheldor, who are rightfully upset and asking the right questions.

Here are side-by-side depictions of the Cost Sheets used by the City for Ardsley Road. 

ArdsleyCompareProjectCosts

ArdsleyCompareResidentsCost

. . for more details on how this fiasco happened see our Jan. 7, 2020 posting . .

ardsley-campaignsignp.s. I continue to believe that the Sidewalk plan was pushed and rushed by Mr. Polimeni and the Mayor’s office for the political purpose of having a block completed before the November 2019 election. If that guess is correct, the failure to ever inform Ardsley Rd. residents of their cost under the Contractor Bid, or of the City Hall decision to charge even more than the Bid cost in the First Payment invoices, was not just an oversight or a Pilot Program issue. It was an intentional decision to prevent the Ardsley Rd. residents from withdrawing their Petition and stopping the construction on their block because prices had increased so much above the Polimeni-Wallin Estimates.

. . THIS TALE IS TO BE CONTINUED. .

CmteMtg3Feb2020-sidewalk update (February 4, 2020): On Monday February 3, the Schenectady City Council held its customary Committees Meeting, with the Ardsley Rd. sidewalk project on its agenda. The public access video of the Meeting can be found at https://tinyurl.com/CouncilCmte3Feb20, with the Sidewalk segment beginning at about 00:23:00. [In the photo to the right, Marion Porterfield asks John Polimeni whether residents signing a Petition, would be able to withdraw from the Petition after being informed of the selected contractor bid, if they believed the cost to them would be too high. Mr. Polimeni quietly said “yes”, and started nodding his head up and down. There was a pause in all discussion, and neither the topic of residents withdrawing from their Petition, nor the process process of doing so, was discussed further.

Although there were many important issues raised by the public in last week’s public hearing, the Council, with Finance Committee Chair John Polimeni leading the discussion, ignored most of them. Beyond mentioning the need for better communication several times (with no details on how and when to achieve it), the only subject getting detailed attention was the complaint by a corner-property owner that, without notice, the City sent a bill for sidewalk footage on Union Street to the owners of the two corner properties at Union Street and Ardsley Rd. 

. . . IMG_2703 . . IMG_2702

. . above: the west [L] and east [R] corners of Union St. and Ardsley Rd. . .

Although they did not address the complaint that the cost of $55.44 was too high, the Council committee decided that the City would bear the cost of 40 feet of sidewalk on the Union Street corner related to disability access ramps.

The decision meant reducing the total frontage to be charged to the Residents on the Ardsley Rd. petition from 1425 feet to 1385 linear feet, with the 40 feet added to the City Share of project costs. Although not mentioned, it therefore meant that the City Share of the total Project Cost would rise another $2217.60, to more than ninety-eight thousand dollars.

Immediately below are marked-up versions of the Project Cost sheet and Cost to Residents sheet approved by the Committee on January 21, showing the new costs to the City and the affected property owners, which will be on the Agenda of City Council for final action on February 10, 2020.

ArdsleyCosts3Feb

ArdsleyResidents3Feb

The Council Committee also concluded that any disability access ramps that were need on the Petitioning portion of DeCamp Avenue would also be treated as part of the City Share for that Project. Those changes were approved to be put on the Agenda for the next City Council meeting, February 10, 2020, with the primary provision of the Resolution being a change from $81.71 to $55.44 per foot as the cost to the Ardsley Rd. residents.

There was no discussion of, among other things:

  • Whether the $55.44 cost per linear foot was appropriate for the Ardsley Road residents to pay, as $55.44 is 25% higher than the Polimeni-Wallin Estimate, and the Petitioners were “stuck” and never had the chance to reject the Contractor or revised City cost numbers.
  • Just how high a subsidy Council is willing to grant if a Sidewalk Bid in the future, including the upcoming DeCamp Ave. project, is considered too high by the petitioning residents.
  • IMG_2700Whether the Council will impose a threshold for cost escalation in the Sidewalk Assessment District program, requiring that the added costs be approved in order to compensate the Contractor.
  • Whether, in the words of John Polimeni, the only problem was the “communication thing,” or whether additional core problem exist that should be addressed before starting any new Sidewalk blocks.  For example, what about the $40-50,000 of unexplained costs that were apparently not anticipated by Wallin and Polimeni in their estimates, but found their way into the original Contract Bid for Ardsley Rd.?

FinalArdsleyCosts10Feb2020

. . (above) FINAL COSTS for the Ardsley Road Assessment District sidewalk project . . 

update (Feb. 11, 2020): Yesterday evening, February 10, 2020, the Schenectady City Council approved the Final Costs for the Ardsley Rd. sidewalk project. [Click on image directly above this update.] The matter was on the Council’s Consent Agenda, and was therefore passed unanimously with the entire Consent Agenda, without discussion. At the end of the Council Meeting, no Council member took the opportunity to mention Ardsley Rd. or the Sidewalk Assessment District Project. The approved Ordinance, with a Cost Breakdown document dated 07Feb2020), only deals with the City Share, Costs to Property Owners, and Assessment Costs by Address (without interest, which will apparently be 2%, with a 10-year payback period).

  • Property Owners will pay a rate of $55.44 per linear foot of sidewalk, with each frontage determined by the City Tax Map. The original cost in the Contractor Bid approved last September was $81.71 per linear foot. With the linear footage reduced to 1385′, the total cost to Property Owners is $76,784,40, about 32% of the Total Project Costs.
  • The City Share, $161,410.45, is 68% of the Total Project Cost of $238,194.85. The City Share under the original Contractor Bid was $63,000.

None of the other issues mentioned above were addressed, much less settled. Therefore, the future of the Sidewalk Assessment District Plan is still up in the air.

mahafez06aug2017 MH-LTE-BackToSchoolfollow-up (Feb. 15, 2020): On today’s Schenectady Gazette Opinion page, with the Polimeni Sidewalk Plan in mind, local businessman Mohamed Hafez suggests we should send the Council member I call “Professor D-Minus” Back to School (click on image to the right for a larger version).